I’ve just finished listening to a podcast with Dr Shannon Weeks as the guest (Johnny FD’s ‘Travel like a boss’ Podcast), in which they covered a whole range of topics related to general health, well-being and healthy aging. There were a couple of things that jumped out at me in particular.
The first is that aging is not a disease. Shannon argued that as people age and their health starts to deteriorate, it can put down to the aging process. Often this isn’t necessarily the case, and it may be the cumulative impact of years of unhealthy lifestyle catching up with them.
I’ve similarly heard it said that “you don’t stop moving because you get old, you get old because you stop moving!” I’ve been wondering for a while about ageing and what difference it may or may not make in the progress towards my goals.
Had I embarked on this lifestyle renewal at 22 instead of 32, would it have made the process easier? Probably. I may have bounced back more quickly from injury and obviously I wouldn’t have spent those 10 years feeling trapped in a body that didn’t serve me well.
It does strike me sometimes as a bit perverse that I spend most days of the week hobbling around sore and crippled only so I can avoid feeling sore and crippled in 30 years’ time. Being fit, healthy and flexible in my twilight years is a major incentive for me.
75 years old (young) and fit as a fiddle
I’m sure we’ve all known those older people we look to as an inspiration for how we want to live, as well as those whose example we don’t want to follow. Last year I did a group hike in New Zealand and our guide, Ray, was at least 75 years old and fit as a fiddle.
Over the course of several days as we shared details of our lives he revealed that in addition to leading guided hikes and kayaking trips (and FYI kayaking is an awesome way to stay fit – there’s more here on kayaks if you’re interested), he competes in half marathons at the World Masters’ Games. Ray is ex-Navy and he and his wife used to run the Outward Bound camp in their part of New Zealand.
It was clear that being physically active has been a major feature of Ray’s life and to my keen eye he showed no signs of slowing down. He also ate exceptionally well, allowing himself dessert only one of the three nights we ate together. Judging by the twinkle in his eye and his ready laugh, Ray lives the good life in every respect.
I want to be Ray when I grow up! (Obviously the female version). He’s hiked almost every major trail around the globe, and although I’ve started a little late, why the hell can’t I? Why shouldn’t I make nurturing my body and exploring its limits a major priority?
Keeping it strong and healthy and well-fuelled shouldn’t come at the expense of the rest of ‘living’, but facilitate it. From time-to-time, usually in response to an off-the-cuff comment from a friend, I’ve wondered if my passion has become an obsession, bordering on the unhealthy. Or even worse, am I shallow and self-obsessed?
I’ll admit to being obsessed, but not shallow. While I have aesthetic goals, this mission is primarily about health, fitness, and wanting to feel truly alive and truly happy. Our bodies are with us everywhere we go and they house our minds. There’s nothing superficial, in my view, about putting its needs absolutely front and centre.
Dr Weeks makes the point that when our health fails other things usually follow suit – jobs, relationships, etc, so there are very good reasons to prioritise it. I also feel that I’m living proof of the power of the mind-body connection. Restoring my body to health has given me courage to strive for other goals previously thought unreachable.
“You pay for an unhealthy lifestyle”
But I digress. The second thing that jumped out at me from the Podcast was Shannon making the point that you end up paying for an unhealthy lifestyle somewhere down the line. Making compromises on your diet to save money by buying cheap, unwholesome food won’t do you or the aging process any favours in the long run.
It’s a ludicrous false economy, particularly in countries like the US where medical care is so expensive. Organic vegetables are cheaper than diabetes or heart disease. I’m not going to go all Louise Hay on you and assume that all disease is the direct consequence of our decisions or our lifestyle, but some things are known fact. Rates of chronic disease are higher in communities where education levels are lower, incomes are lower and nutrition is poorer.
Correlation or causation, the fact remains that a healthy diet and exercise are major factors in improving health and wellbeing as well as ‘successful’ aging. The podcast host, Johnny, goes so far as to describe spending money on a coconut and extra avocado each day is his ‘health insurance’. The moral of the story is that eating well and being physically active is guaranteed to pay off, now and in your old age.
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PPS. All images sourced from Bigstock.com.